The iconic leader whose passing has been termed as an end of an era has left behind a legacy of an unbending politics. But how the void left behind by Syed Ali Geelani plays out in Kashmir is the question that everybody is asking.
The man whose furtive farewell drew who’s who in the state apparatus on the nocturnal operation at Rehmatabad has already created a buzz about “what next” in Kashmir.
The departure might be a merry moment for Bhartiya Janta Party and their rightwing affiliates—as their long-term “Kashmir adversary” has finally rested in peace—but the question remains how the void created by the “mass leader” will play out in times ahead.
“As the topmost resistance leader, Geelani was a safety valve in Kashmir,” said Shoib Mirza, a political science scholar based out of New Delhi.
“It was his massive appeal that diffused tension in the valley during 2008, 2010 and 2016. He always led from the front, but knew how to check the pulse of streets because he had a say.”
Keeping his 2010 mass appeal in mind, the Mehbooba Mufti government reached out to him in 2016 summer for creating calm for his “daughter-like” chief minister dismissing dissenters with her infamous “candy and milk” remark.
“There’s no one like Geelani in Kashmir’s politics now, with a say over massive sentiments,” Mirza argued. “That’s why he faced what he faced for being such a big influencer.”
But now, the passing of the patron has created a void, as pointed by Hurriyat Conference in their tribute to Geelani, which many say might shift the pendulum on the either side now. Among the deliberators on his departure are the top Indian analysts as well as the deceased leader’s diehards.
“Syed Ali Geelani might’ve died as a staunch pro-Pakistani, but let those celebrating his death understand that he wasn’t anti-India, but against Indian policies in Kashmir,” said Geelani’s long-term friend.
“His politics was based on the two nation theory—which is a biblical belief of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar. He was only fighting for the Right to Self Determination in Kashmir as promised by India’s first Prime Minister, Jawahar Lal Nehru, in United Nations.”
But then, the “Hurriyat Hawk” as Delhi media described him was quite unapologetic about his stand: “Hum Pakistani hai, Pakistan hamara hai.” Pakistan premier Imran Khan cited the same watchword in his tribute to the fallen leader.
For his “uncompromised politics”, Geelani was Delhi’s ultimate go-getter in Kashmir, especially when streets would explode with rage. To the visiting delegates or the United Nations, he would present his famous six conditions for normalcy, including demilitarization process, repeal of AFSPA and Public Safety Act, among others.
His rigid beliefs, however, earned him enemies—accusing him of seeking ‘utopia in dystopia’.
He was censured for not sharing the talking table with his adversaries and shooing away an Indian parliamentary delegation from his closed door in 2016.
“I’m not against dialogue,” Geelani would say in his defence, “but Delhi has completely eroded the institution of dialogue. They’re asking us to abjure violence before coming to the table. But it’s the Indian state that is holding guns and killing our people.”
The onetime unionist who joined politics in 1949 and participated in elections in 1962 believed that Kashmir is a political problem — left unattended and acerbated by New Delhi.
“In 1987,” Geelani once said, “we fought elections to solve the Kashmiri issue by peaceful means, but India has never accepted this.”
Following the rigged polls and with the dawn of nineties, the Persian graduate became India’s “staunchest separatist” in Kashmir.
Subsequently, Geelani was held responsible for bloodshed and agitation. Mindful of the criticism, he would reiterate that Kashmir struggle is not based on any enmity against India.
“I’ve repeatedly criticised groups which spread hatred against India,” he would say. “We want India and its people to prosper and to do justice to the oppressed people of J&K.”
Stating that Kashmir isn’t a “border dispute”, Geelani batted for the participation of Kashmiris in the Indo-Pak dialogue. “It’s the issue concerning future of 15 million people,” he argued. “Without involvement of Kashmiri people, such a process has proved meaningless in the past.”
But then, his critics always questioned his “unbending stand” driven by his strike politics.
“What can oppressed people do [other than hartal] when government doesn’t even allow them to come onto the street to protest,” he would say.
Apart from terming the actions of ISIS and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan as “unIslamic”, Geelani reprimanded General Pervez Musharraf for his 4-point formula — prompting others to state: “Geelani has taken a position where from he couldn’t come down.”
After his demise and the dramatic grave shift, many are invoking the 2004 statement of Mangat Ram Sharma in which the former deputy chief minister of J&K had said, “The Kashmir issue would live until Geelani is alive.”
What happens next might be the question worth seeking answer for, but his passing has already flooded the virtual world with his old interviews. In one of those talks, he was asked: “How do you want people to remember you?”
“Well, let people decide that,” Geelani replied.